Raised eyebrows over international wine show results
Australia’s ‘National Champion’ entered in the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships this year was Domaine Chandon Non-Vintage Brut (AUD $32). Last year the judges voted Howard Park’s Jeté Non-Vintage Brut Blanc (AUD $34) Australia’s best. Both of these results raised eyebrows around this country.These results suggest to me that the judges are conflicted about what constitutes great bubbly.
What happened? Weren’t any of our great sparkling wines entered? Well, yes, some were. Arras enters its top wines every year, wines of considerable age and complexity thanks partly to long ageing on lees. This year the 2002 Arras E.J. Carr Late Disgorged was entered and won a trophy for best Australian vintage wine. But it was pipped at the post for champion Australian wine by the relatively young and straightforward Chandon NV.
These results mightn’t raise an eyebrow if this competition hadn’t quickly become a significant global event.
It raises the question: “What are the criteria for a top sparkling wine?” These results suggest to me that the judges are conflicted about what constitutes great bubbly.
No question about the judges’ credentials. They are three of the world’s best fizz fanciers. Chair and creator of the comp is English wine author and Champagne specialist Tom Stevenson; the other two are distinguished Australian winemaker Dr Tony Jordan (who was pivotal in establishing Domaine Chandon Australia) and Finnish specialist sparkling wine judge and writer, Essie Avellan MW.
Jordan is well-known for favouring freshness and fruit over aged complexity in sparkling wine. But he is just one of three, and the judging is all done blind, as far as I’m aware. Stevenson, on the other hand, dislikes aldehyde in sparkling wines.
Other judges tend to prefer aged complexity above all other considerations.
My own preference is for a happy combination of both freshness and fruit on one hand, and matured complexity on the other. Finesse and balance are assumed.
There’s no doubt the current Chandon NV Brut is a very good wine, a wine of finesse and charm, and great value, especially when discounted in the liquor barns (it’s an absurdly cheap AUD $18 at First Choice as I write this).
Yes, it’s true that many of today’s top Australian sparkling wines are produced in very small volumes by boutique wineries, such as Deviation Road, Freycinet, Moorilla Estate, Sidewood, Printhie, Hanging Rock, Lambrook, Sittella, Gembrook Hill, Courabyra and Delamere. And they tend not to enter wine shows – especially overseas shows, as many don’t export.
Food for thought as we slide into peak bubble season.